The Edmonton Eskimos may have just signed their starting running back for next season.
With thousand-yard rusher Jerome Messam’s future up in the air pending off-season workouts with a number of clubs south of the border, the club re-signed agile import Hugh Charles on Wednesday.
A late-season arrival to the Eskimos last year, Charles split rushing duties with Messam in the last two games of the regular season before taking over the starting role in the playoffs when his counterpart went down with a torn meniscus.
Before bringing him on board in a mid-October trade with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman had his eye on Charles from the beginning.
“We all have,” said Tillman, who originally signed the running back in 2008. “I brought Hugh into the league. (Eskimos head coach) Kavis (Reed) was his positional coach in Saskatchewan and (offensive co-ordinator) Marcus Crandell played with him and coached him.
“So there’s about as strong a connection as you can have.”
Now, out from under the watermelon-flavoured shadow of Roughriders running back Wes Cates, Charles will have a chance to vie for the starting role when the Eskimos open training camp next June — regardless of whether Messam, the league’s reigning most outstanding Canadian, returns.
“We’re still building our team,” Tillman said. “To take the next step, we need to inject more speed into our lineup.”
Although his late arrival didn’t allow for as many opportunities as he would have liked, Charles still made the most of his touches and turned the divisional final into a job audition for the 2012 season with eight carries for 53 yards and two catches for 28 yards.
“Guys that have outstanding speed can flip the field and impact the game,” Tillman said.
Charles signed a one-year deal, plus an option year.
The Eskimos also signed defensive back Delroy Clark to the same length deal on Wednesday.
“He’s an excellent special-teamer for us and he gives us a lot of versatility from a defensive standpoint,” Tillman said of the non-import player, who finished tied for 15th overall in the league with 14 special-teams tackles. “The difference between good and being great sometimes goes far beyond the high-profile guys.
“To win at a high level, you have to have players like Delroy. Guys who, although they lack big-name recognition, contribute in many significant ways.”